It was a big week for Republicans and weed. First, on April 11, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that he’d joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company “with cultivation, processing and dispensing operations across 11 states.”
A day later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
Then, on April 13, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said he’d struck a deal with President Trump two days earlier that would allow recreational marijuana business in the nine legal states to operate without federal interference. Gardener stated:
“Late Wednesday (April 11), I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole Memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix the states’ rights issue once in for all.”
In exchange, Gardner said he would no longer block Trump’s Justice Department nominees.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Gardner’s remarks:
“We’re always consulting Congress about issues, including states’ rights, of which the president is a firm believer and the statement the senator put out earlier today is accurate.”
This runs contrary to efforts by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ratchet up the war on marijuana. The aforementioned Cole Memo protected businesses in legal marijuana states like Colorado and Oregon during the second term of the Obama presidency. In January, Sessions scrapped the memo and informed U.S. attorneys they could once again target the legal marijuana industry. However, since then little effort has been made in that direction.
Like the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment to the appropriations bill, which protects patients and businesses in legal medical-marijuana states, the McClinock-Polis amendment would do the same for recreational states. However, it’s currently stalled in the House Rules Committee. Other proposed bills would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
Some Congress members are taking a wait and see stance. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) commented:
“This is another head spinning moment. We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted. Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way.”
In Los Angeles, attorney Aaron Lachant wondered if the Gardner-Trump deal will only apply to Colorado:
“The agreement itself appears narrow and only applicable to that state. Nevertheless, this is an encouraging sign when in the last year all the messages from Washington have been all about enforcement. This suggests that they’re finally moving towards policy solutions.”
But without the help of Sessions, who’s been in Trump’s crosshairs ever since he recused himself from the Mueller investigation. This deal is widely viewed as a rebuke of Sessions’ intention to go after the marijuana industry.
“Trump’s pledge to Gardner is a significant and potentially game-changing development, but it does not necessarily means that Sessions is no longer a threat to licensed cannabis businesses. The legislation must be drafted sufficiently so it does not permit Sessions to crack down on businesses and individuals obeying state law, and then Trump must follow through on his pledge to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Until then, Sessions remains a threat, albeit an increasingly weaker one.”
Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project, added:
“This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs. It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently.”
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